Adderall Addiction and Treatment

This article will help you to understand Adderall addiction and treatment. Read on to learn more.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant that doctors prescribe to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and depression in some individuals.1  The medication is a combination of the medicines dextroamphetamine and amphetamines.

However, some individuals may abuse the medication to take it to achieve a high or to accomplish other means, such as staying awake for longer periods, losing weight, or concentrating to study.

According to Psychology Today, doctors wrote an estimated 16 million prescriptions for stimulants including Adderall in 2012. This number is triple that of the amount written in 2008.2

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Adderall addiction and treatment

Prescription Amphetamines 

Adderall is just one example of prescription stimulants that may be abused. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the three most-abused or misused stimulants are dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dexmethylphenidate (Ritalin), and Adderall.  Adderall is a stimulant medication. When an individual takes the medicine, the medication stimulates their brain to release the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. With more of these chemicals present in the brain, an individual can improve concentration and feelings of alertness. 

What Does it Treat?

Doctors have prescribed amphetamines for many years, with Psychology Today crediting the first amphetamine epidemic in the mid-1960s.2 At that time, those who struggled with amphetamine addiction were typically middle aged and used the medications to feel more energetic.2 A number of celebrities at this time were known to struggle with amphetamines addiction, including Johnny Cash, Cecil B. DeMille, the Rolling Stones, and even President John F. Kennedy.2 Since doctors recognized that amphetamines could cause addiction and health problems, its popularity decreased until doctors started to more widely recognize the existence of ADHD. When they applied the treatment of ADHD and Adderall together, the number of prescriptions began to increase again.

Adderall High and Abuse

A common misconception about Adderall addiction and abuse is that because Adderall is a legal substance, an individual cannot become addicted to it. This is not true. One can become addicted to Adderall and misuse the drug. Some misuse Adderall by crushing the tablets and snorting or injecting them. This can be a dangerous practice because releasing that much amphetamine into the bloodstream at the time can cause small blood vessels to tighten up and potentially become blocked. As a result, one may experience heart and kidney damage, as well as damage to other organs. Some examples of how an individual may use and abuse Adderall include:
  • Taking the pills to get high
  • Taking medication that isn’t prescribed to them
  • Taking medication to improve scholastic or athletic performance
  • Mixing medication with alcohol or other drugs as a means to get high
  • Taking more than the dosage a doctor prescribes
  • Using the medication in a way a doctor doesn’t prescribe, such as snorting or injecting the pills

Who Abuses Adderall?

Some doctors call Adderall a “study drug,” because they use Adderall as a means to concentrate and study for an exam.1 However, there are no indications or medical research to support the idea that taking Adderall improves an individual’s academic performance.

Adderall and Weight Loss

Two common side effects with Adderall are reduced appetite and weight loss.3 However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Adderall for weight loss. Currently, Adderall is only approved to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.

However, doctors have prescribed Adderall in an off-label fashion to help a person lose weight.3 Off-label means that the FDA hasn’t approved it as a treatment, but a doctor is prescribing it anyway. While doctors are known to prescribe medications off-label, this is not a legal approach or beneficial idea.

Adderall has several known side effects that make it a dangerous potential weight loss drug. Examples include high blood pressure and a fast heart rate. If an individual has problems with their heart, taking Adderall could increase the likelihood they will have dangerous heart rhythms.

Adderall can also make young children lose weight, which can be harmful at times to their growth.3 Parents who are concerned about their child’s weight loss related to taking Adderall are encouraged to consult the child’s physician.

Adderall Statistics

Many parents worry that if their child takes Adderall, they will abuse it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenager abuse of prescription stimulant medications is low.1 An estimated two in every 100 students in the eighth, tenth, or twelfth grades have abused or misused a prescription amphetamine medication (like Adderall) over the past month.1

The number of teenagers who are abusing prescription stimulants is decreasing over time. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following are changes in Adderall use over time between 2014 and 2019:


Academic Class  2014 Past Month Use  2019 Past Month Use 
Eighth Graders  1.3%  2.5% 
Tenth Graders  4.6%  3.1% 
Twelfth Graders  6.8%  3.9% 
In 2015, high school seniors reported Adderall as the second-most abused medication besides other prescription amphetamines, according to U.S. News & World Report.4 An estimated 7.5% of high school students had abused Adderall in the past year. This was followed by 5.4% of opioids (painkillers) other than heroin. However, this number of prescription abuse is significantly lower than the past-year abuse of marijuana, which 34.9% reported using.4

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Adderall Dependence vs. Adderall Addiction

Differences exist between Adderall dependence and Adderall addiction. For example, when a person takes Adderall daily, they are likely dependent on the drug. This means their body is used to the drug being in the system. If they were to stop taking the drug, they would have withdrawal symptoms as a result.

Addiction is different because those who abuse Adderall start to lose control over how much they use. They may use more than they intended or find themselves unable to resist using it, even though they don’t want to. Additionally, they may experience problems related to their Adderall abuse, such as stealing from others’ prescriptions, experiencing trouble with the law, or spending a lot of money purchasing Adderall on the street.

The Negative Consequences

Those addicted to Adderall will keep using the medication even though they are having negative consequences as a result of using Adderall. If a patient who is dependent on Adderall starts to develop negative consequences, they will likely talk to their doctor about how to adjust their dosage or change how they take the medication.1 Of the young people who abuse Adderall, less than 20% are actually getting the pills from their doctor, according to U.S. News & World Report. This means the remaining portion of teenagers are obtaining the pills from drug dealers or their friends. 

Adderall Effects and Abuse

The following are examples of Adderall effects and abuse, both in the short- and long-term.

Short-Term Effects

When taken as prescribed, stimulants don’t usually cause severe side effects. However, if one takes them other than how a doctor prescribes (such as taking more than the recommended dose or using it other than as recommended), they could potentially experience unwanted short-term effects.

Examples of these effects include:1

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risks for seizures and stroke
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor sleep
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Very high body temperatures

If an individual abuses Adderall by injecting drugs, they may be at greater risk for medical conditions such as HIV, hepatitis, or other diseases transmitted by sharing needles.1

Long-Term Effects

Abusing prescription stimulants long-term can lead to a number of unwanted effects on the body. This is especially true if Adderall is abused by snorting or injecting it.1

Examples of the long-term health effects that Adderall abuse can cause include:

  • Intense anger
  • Paranoia (feeling as if someone or something is out to get them)
  • Heart problems
  • Psychosis

Not all who abuse Adderall long-term will experience these effects, but they are potential side effects that can occur.

How Extended Adderall Abuse Affects the Brain

Adderall is available in a variety of dosages, including in an extended-release version. Doctors prescribe this version as Adderall XR. Doctors usually prescribe Adderall XR specifically to treat ADHD, but not usually narcolepsy.  Adderall XR is designed to release slowly in the body to maintain a steady level of Adderall in the brain. However, if an individual abuses too much Adderall XR, the medication can start to build up to excess in the body. The result can be what doctors call neurotoxicity, with symptoms of excess dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This can be very harmful to an individuals health.1

Dangerous Adderall Symptoms

Adderall Overdose

One can overdose on prescription stimulants such as Adderall.1 This is especially true if Adderall is combined with other medications, especially those doctors prescribe to treat depression or ones that use decongestants. 

Adderall Withdrawal

When an individual is dependent or addicted to Adderall, they can experience symptoms associated with withdrawal. Examples of symptoms a person can experience due to Adderall withdrawal include:1

  • Anxiety
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Suicidal thoughts

These are just some of the examples one can experience when going through Adderall withdrawals.

Adderall Warnings and Interactions

Adderall has a black box warning on it.5 This warning type is the most serious the FDA issues. The black box warning specifically reads that a person could be at risk for death and dependence if they abuse Adderall. Additionally, Adderall can cause sudden death, most often related to underlying heart problems a person may not know they have.5

Adderall and Pregnancy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated one in 100 women reported taking Adderall during pregnancy.5 This number of women taking ADHD medicine has doubled from 1998 to 2011.

The CDC reports that taking Adderall can increase the likelihood that a baby will experience birth defects.

Examples include:5

  • Gastroschisis
  • Omphalocele
  • Transverse limb deficiency

Doctors haven’t performed a lot of research related to pregnancy and taking Adderall. This is because there are a lot of ethical implications for researching birth defects. However, the CDC recommends a woman talk to her doctor about taking Adderall if she currently takes the medication, and if she should continue taking it during pregnancy.

Final Thoughts

Adderall addiction can lead to many harmful side effects, including heart and blood pressure problems. If you suspect that a loved one struggles with Adderall addiction, it’s important to talk to their doctor about potential treatment options. While Adderall withdrawals are not known to be deadly, a doctor or rehabilitation center can recommend a tapering plan that reduces the symptoms a person experiences.

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